Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Butterscotch Pudding with Butterscotch Almond Cookies . . . Like Love and Marriage!

Some things were born to cohabit. They were just meant to be together. Like Adam and Eve, like Ken and Barbie, these chewy butterscotch-almond cookies, partnered with homemade butterscotch pudding,  produce perfect harmony. I'm crazy about their complex flavor and just-right-to-bite texture.

Along with light brown sugar, almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds), and almond extract, their secret ingredient is a couple tablespoons of buckwheat honey. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a beekeeper selling raw Michigan buckwheat honey at Detroit's Eastern Market a couple of weekends ago and naturally I wasted no time in nabbing a bottle. Dark and dusky, buckwheat honey is kind of like a cross between molasses and maple syrup, but more distinctive than either. Some people describe its color as seeming almost purplish when the light shines through it. A little dab added to baked goods will have your taste-testers munching slowly while staring off into space, muttering to themselves, ". . . what is that I taste? It's really good . . . "

About these recipes . . .

The cookie formula is one I adapted from When Everybody Ate at Schrafft's: Memories, Pictures, and Recipes from a Very Special Restaurant Empire.  Apparently, their homemade butterscotch cookies were a huge seller. Wish I'd been around when Schrafft's was in its heyday. I first heard about it as a kid, strictly through the old movies I watched on TV with my mom; seems like some character or other was always going there. "Meet me at Schrafft's," or, "Yeah, I discovered her sittin' on a stool in Schrafft's!" was a common refrain. This book is a hoot. I recommend it if you ever want to know more of the story.

I altered the recipe by using almond meal instead of the indicated finely chopped pecans, added in almond extract, used light vs. dark brown sugar, and threw in buckwheat honey as mentioned above. (And, yes, I reworded the recipe.)

The pudding comes from Luscious Creamy Desserts by Lori Longbotham. She suggests the addition of a tablespoon of Scotch whiskey to rile things up (her recipe is called "better-than-classic butterscotch pudding"). I put in half that amount just to see what might result. I thought the Scotch added an almost fruity aspect to the flavor and I was kind of on the fence about it, but my husband loved it.

In the pudding, I also used light brown sugar vs. dark brown and it was plenty sweet with the light brown. The pudding didn't firm up quite as much as I'd expected, but was similar in thickness to Greek yogurt. Just right, in any case, for dipping cookies. This pudding is very rich, and the recipe makes four modest individual servings. With a cookie on the side, this actually makes for a pretty filling dessert.

Butterscotch Pudding and Butterscotch Almond Cookies
(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!) 

Butterscotch pudding
Yield: Four 6 oz. servings

Have ready four 6 oz. ramekins/bowls standing by.
Have a medium-size bowl, along with a fine mesh sieve, standing by; it will be needed immediately after cooking the pudding.

1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup unsalted butter (4 Tbsp. or 1/2 of one stick)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Yolks from 8 large eggs
1 pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 tsp. Scotch whiskey (optional, of course!)

In a medium size bowl, whisk the cornstarch and milk until the cornstarch is well mixed in. Set aside.

Put the 8 egg yolks into their own medium size bowl with the pinch of salt nearby; set aside with a clean whisk.

In a large heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat, melt the butter.

Dump in the brown sugar and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbly.

Whisking constantly, pour the milk-cornstarch mixture into the saucepan carefully, with the heat still on medium. Cook for about 2 minutes, continuing to whisk, until the liquid is hot and any sugar lumps are gone. Take the pan off the heat.

Add the salt into the bowl of egg yolks and whisk.

Into this, pour the heated mixture, whisking constantly (or you'll end up with scrambled eggs!).

Pour all of this back into the saucepan and put it back on the stove. Over medium-low heat, cook for 6 to 8 minutes, whisking continually all the while (isn't whisking fun?), until big bubbles show up on the surface.

Without delay (not even 20 seconds, people!), pour the entire mixture through the sieve you set up over the empty bowl. Into that, whisk the lemon juice, vanilla, and Scotch.

Let this cool for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically, then ladle it into your ramekins/bowls.

Cover each ramekin with a small piece of plastic wrap, pressing it right down onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Cool further, until no longer hot, then refrigerate the puddings for at least three hours, until cold and set.

Butterscotch Almond Cookies
Yield: At least 24 good-sized cookies.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. buckwheat honey (or use 1/4 cup extra brown sugar instead)

1 large egg
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Generous 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup almond meal (Sometimes also referred to as almond flour; you can make your own by grinding blanched almonds in your food processor. Just be careful not to overgrind them into paste. I buy almond meal at Trader Joe's, where it's not too expensive, but you can also find it at health food stores and, increasingly, in regular grocery stores in the baking aisle.)

In the large bowl of your mixer, blend together the butter and shortening just for several seconds. Add in the sugar, beating until creamy. Add into this the egg, non-fat dry milk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and honey. Beat until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, kosher salt, and almond meal. Pour this into the mixer bowl and blend on medium low speed.

Chill the dough for an hour or more before portioning onto cookie sheets.

Scoop the dough using a 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. portion scoop (or, just eyeball it, of course), leaving a couple inches of space between each one. Dampen your palm and gently flatten the balls down slightly. Bake the cookies for about 7 to 9 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

Cool the cookies for a few minutes on the baking sheet then move to a rack. Store them in an airtight container.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Banana Cake-Bars with Dark Chocolate Chips (Still Lovin' that Spelt Flour!)

Given that I've been cozying up to the delicate sweetness of spelt flour lately, I thought it was high time to post another recipe that makes use of it. (My maiden voyage with spelt can be found here, in case you're interested.) Though spelt flour is made from the whole grain, it bears only slight resemblance, in my opinion, to whole wheat flour in terms of flavor and texture. I think it may be the golden ticket for home bakers who aren't completely thrilled at the idea of sweets containing any whole grain flour, yet who want to begin incorporating healthier flours into at least a few of their baked goods. It works really well mixed in with unbleached white flour, and I figure that's the best jumping off point. Give it a whirl on a small scale before you fully commit.

Bite into one of these treats and, from the texture angle, you won't even be able to tell that they're not made entirely with white flour. In fact, these banana cake-bars are so cakey I really couldn't get away with calling them just banana bars. These guys are more like soft little cake slices. With fragile golden crumbs that tumble off here and there when you pick them up, they cry out for clean white napkins and big tumblers of ice cold milk. They'll do those ripe bananas proud.

About this recipe . . .

I adapted this from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains. This was the first whole grain baking book I ever really liked. I've baked from it many times, and most of the results have been surprisingly good. I've noticed that many of the older whole-grain baking cookbooks out there, from past decades, often include formulas for almost concrete-like breads, cookies, and cakes. I'm relieved we're finally seeing a lighter approach in volumes like this one, and in Good to the Grain, which has a whole chapter devoted to baking with spelt.

The original recipe called for semi-sweet chips but, honestly, I think that would have made them too sweet. Plus, I'm a maniac for dark chocolate so I used that instead. I also substituted canola oil for butter, I drastically reduced the amount of cinnamon and nutmeg and, as noted above, I used a mixture of white and spelt flour instead of using spelt alone.

My kids really liked these, which I must admit kind of surprised me. Nathan (the now-15-year old), who is always my willing guinea pig whenever I bake something new, adored them. I thought the boys would become uninterested the second they heard the word spelt come from my mouth, but it didn't phase them. In my house, that's a meaningful seal of approval.

Banana Cake-Bars 
with Dark Chocolate Chips (and Spelt Flour!)
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Makes one 9" x 13" pan; 24 - 2" squares.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" pan.
(Just fyi: I mixed this recipe entirely by hand. Gave my mixer the day off!) 

3/4 cup canola oil
1 and 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar, packed (I used light.)
3 medium size bananas, very ripe, well mashed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 large pinch ground cinnamon
1 large pinch ground nutmeg
1 egg, large
1 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups dark chocolate, small chips or chopped bar chocolate (I used a combo of both.)

Stir the oil and the sugar together well in a large bowl. Beat in the bananas, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Add in the egg, stirring vigorously. Stop to scrape the bowl with a spatula now and then.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add to the liquid mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes (this direction allows the flour to absorb some of the moisture a thicken a bit). Sprinkle your chocolate evenly over the top. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool the finished bars in their pan on a rack. They're best when allowed to rest overnight, in the pan, covered. (They stay fresh for at least two days and I actually thought the flavor had improved the second day.)

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